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Safety Group Wants Jeep Grand Cherokees Recalled, Cites Fuel Tank Fires

Oct 5, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

A consumer safety group has called for a recall of Jeep Grand Cherokees, claiming that the vehicles have defective fuel tanks that are prone to causing fires.

In a letter to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Center for Auto Safety said a search of the NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System  revealed that 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees were involved in 172 fatal fire crashes with 254 fatalities between 1992 and 2002. With an additional known fatal fire crash in 2009, there have been at least 44 crashes with 64 fatalities where the "Most Harmful Event" was a fire, the group said.  Nearly all of the fires and fatalities occurred in Grand Cherokees made before the 2005 model year.

The Center for Auto Safety claims that the 1993-04 Grand Cherokee has a fatal crash fire occurrence rate that is about four times higher than SUVs made by other companies. The group is calling for a recall of  all 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a fuel tank located behind the rear axle.  According to the letter sent to the NHTSA, the fuel tank of the Grand Cherokee is plastic and extends below the rear bumper so there is nothing to protect the tank from a direct hit in a rollover or by a vehicle with a low front profile or one lowered by pre-impact braking. An optional Jeep skid plate to cover the gas tank and protect it during off-road driving reduces the danger, the letter said.

The letter points out that in 2005, after Chrysler merged with Mercedes, DaimlerChrysler moved the fuel tank in board of the rear axle in 2005 and shielded it. Since the relocation of the fuel tank in 2005 and later Grand Cherokees, there has only been one fatal fire crash in the redesigned vehicle, the group said.  That fire occurred after both occupants had been ejected in a rollover of a 2008 Grand Cherokee,  so that the deaths were not caused by fire.  According to the letter, "the defective old Grand Cherokee has a fatal fire rate six times higher than the new Grand Cherokee."

The Center for Auto Safety letter alleges that the design is so bad that that Chrysler frequently settles lawsuits without extensive discovery and subject to confidentiality agreements.  It also points out that when Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, the automaker tried "to escape liability for all future Grand Cherokee crashes occurring after the bankruptcy where the vehicle was sold before the bankruptcy."  Under intense public pressure,  Chrysler relented and agreed to cover future product liability losses.  However, according to the letter, the automaker is still refusing to accept responsibility for fatal crashes that occurred prior t the bankruptcy.


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